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Is the free agent mindset infecting employees too?

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You have probably heard about the rise of the independent worker and the impact of this trend on career trajectories and business practices. But perhaps your team is still entirely made up of traditional employees, so while the shift towards gig-based careers is something every business person needs to keep an eye on, it doesn’t affect your day-to-day management, does it?

Maybe more than you think, argued Julien Vayssiere, chief development architect at SAP, on SAP’s Community Network recently. In the thought-provoking post, Vayssiere notes that despite the endless chatter about “free agent nation,” he actually doesn’t see that many independent pros around him. Instead of being surrounded by contractors, freelancers and the like – those we usually think of as independent workers – Vayssiere observes that employees themselves are adopting the mindset of the independent worker:

Why don’t I see more free agents around me? Is it just because governments are slow at creating “laws that reflect the new workplace reality“? Is it because of my vantage point, being employed by a large IT firm? Is it that, in many places of the world, being an employee is still more advantageous in terms of taxes, financial safety and access to social benefits? Is it that Free Agency may, in the end, not be the key to freedom, self-fulfillment and wealth?

My opinion is that those of us who still appear as employees on the outside have started becoming free agents on the inside. We now plan careers, education, projects as if we were free agents, or could become free agents soon, even though we work within the context of “traditional” employment.

Let’s look at the way we work today. We make sure our LinkedIn profile is up to date. We groom our network of connections on a variety of social networks. We maintain a certain amount of social media activity as a projection of our work persona. In short, we build our personal brand and personal portfolio. Or, in the words of [The Individual Age Economics author Andrei] Cherny again, “today each individual is ultimately responsible for guiding their own career and economic future. Today, everyone is an entrepreneur; everyone is their own small business“. Whether we like this trend or not, whether we see this as a threat or an opportunity, I think it captures the way many knowledge workers have come to think about themselves and their situation in the workforce.

He closes with a series of questions, asking readers to weigh in on whether their experience aligns with his. “Is becoming a Free Agent something you desire or something you fear? Are you already a free agent?” he asks. These are good questions to ponder, and one could also ask if this shift towards a free agent mindset among traditional employees is a precursor to a full transformation to largely gig-based employment or a stable development unto itself that has ushered in a career reality that’s likely to be here to stay for awhile.

What do you think?

Image courtesy of Flickr user Dan Queiroz.

4 Responses to “Is the free agent mindset infecting employees too?”

  1. I think that there are many employees who envision themselves as free agents, who want to be free agents, but have not made the leap yet. I was recently at BlogWorld Expo, and I was surprised at how many attendees were working a full-time job while putting in many hours to get their own business off the ground. I can understand why: They don’t want to take the risk of failing to support their family, so they keep their day job while they work hard to build a business based on their passion. They plan to quit their day job when their business starts making enough money to support their family. Unfortunately, this can be very difficult to achieve while working a full-time job. I am afraid that many will never leave their day job and eventually give up on their dream, unless they find the right strategies for using their limited time to successfully launch their business.

    I happen to be a free agent, currently making a living as a contractor managing internet advertising campaigns, while I work on getting my own passion-based business off of the ground. I am lucky to have more freedom and time than most people with a full-time job, so I have the ability to experiment a bit more with my business. I plan to use what I learn to help others to focus on winning strategies so that they can realize their dreams of being a free agent.

    So, watch for more of those employees to jump ship as we figure out how to succeed as free agents!

    • adammbsmith

      Hi Jeff, I’m in that position myself right now. I’m starting up as a sole trader in addition to my day job with the help of a contractor accountant. Maybe it’ll be a side line, maybe it will grow into a limited company? Who knows. But being an employee doesn’t have any of the benefits it had a few decades ago.

      Pay isn’t what it was. Very few companies run pension schemes or agree to contribute to your private pension and I’ve never had a pay rise -ever. So it’s no surprise that people are either looking to supplement their income or make the gradual progression to full time contracting altogether.

  2. Aside from the fact that Mr. Vayssiere ends his post with a bunch of questions and doesn’t appear to allow comments on the post, it’s a thought-provoking concept. I’d agree that free-agent thinking is more prevalent than ever, but I’m really not sure this is good for either businesses or individuals.

    Taken to its extreme, this mentality suggests that businesses are nothing more than a collection of gigs, doesn’t it? Where do these businesses find continuity and identity, if not from their employees?